DeSoto’s ‘Raisin’ earns mad props

Irma P. Hall

If I told you Laurence Olivier has risen from the dead and was in DeSoto acting in a play, any sensible person would drop what they’re doing and rush down to see him. Alas, Larry is still in the ground. But Irma P. Hall warrants the same kind of enthusiasm — she’s a treasure of the acting world, and she is ours.

A Dallas-bred actress with a Hollywood reseume, Hall plays matriarch Lena Younger in the African American Repertory Theater’s "A Raisin in the Sun" with such authority, anyone who doesn’t head to the Corner Theatre to catch her is missing the chance to witness true theatrical magic.

The play about a family dealing with a sudden windfall, now 50 years old, stands up remarkably well, and even impresses with its bold, contemporary ideas (frank talk of atheism and women’s lib; a non-sentimentalized portrayal of a working-class black family). But Hall and the other actresses (who generally outshine the men), and the authentically-designed production, make the entire show bristle with electricity.

Agatha Christie plays can creak almost as loudly as the boat that ferries around the suspects in "Murder on the Nile." There’s the stilted dialogue, the melodramatic plotting, the sketchy characters. But when the actors are having fun, as they mostly do in Theatre Three’s current production, they pass along that energy to the audience.

‘Murder on the Nile’

It’s a talky show, no doubt, but J. Brent Alford handles the summation duties well, and Regan Adair puts such great care into his role that once his callow Simon breaks a leg, you wince in pain with him.

If only there were such empathy — or any — for the selfish prigs in "Closer," from the new troupe Enter Stage Left. Patrick Marber’s discourse on relationships in the modern age is just as chatty as Christie, but as listless as a hotel lounge singer at 2 a.m.

It doesn’t help that the dialogue is veddy English ("chap," "wanker," "slag" and the like) but no one in the cast employs a single attempt at a British accent. Maybe you could overlook that if the director didn’t turn the unfortunate space at Teatro Dallas into a black hole from which no excitement can escape. Chad Halbrook provides zero sexual charisma as an obsessive novelist — his line readings are vacant, bordering on the robotic. I respect any theater company that tries to create something new in this economy. I wish them well, but "Closer" isn’t it. Not even close.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 3, 2009.
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